To paraphrase the late Rick James: nostalgia is a hell of a drug. It’s the kind of intoxicant indie developers have been chasing for years. If you remember the age of pixel platformers, that was devs chasing the nostalgia dragon as hard as they possibly could – that and Braid did well, so we obviously needed more, more, more. That trend is still in full force, of course, and we’re seeing other nostalgic genres like adventure games get some love.
But can this desire to look backwards extend to genres that aren’t pixel-perfect and have come to depend on bleeding-edge visuals and competitive online play? The answer, it seems, is an enthusiastic yes. Check out Voidpoint’s Ion Fury, an FPS so old-school that it’s running on an ancient game engine that’s probably older than many of you reading this.
There’s a plot or something! It’s kind of irrelevant. You’re Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison, star of forgettable third-person shooter Bombshell, out to reclaim Neo-DC from terrorists. And you’ll do this in an FPS game running on the honest-to-god Build Engine, the same tech that powered Duke Nukem 3D and Blood. Heck, consider Ion Fury the spiritual successor to Duke’s uber-macho post-DOOM glory days. It’s a little difficult to get more nostalgic than that. If this sounds good, then come get some!
This works out better than you might expect, even. It’s one thing to make a new Build engine game, it’s another entirely to make one that feels like the shooters of old. Ion Fury mostly nails it, with suitably chunky visuals that manage to look extremely impressive because of how buttery smooth framerates are and how clever the atmosphere is. Say goodbye to endless cutscenes and pointless character development and hello to blasting and killing foes into pixelated chunks. It’s pretty glorious, honestly.
So Ion Fury looks and plays like a shooter from an era of dialup modems and tube televisions, but it’s not without a few modern flourishes; full mouselook and a much greater focus on open areas than something like Duke Nukem 3D are here, but this is a distinctly 90s shooter and that attention to detail shows. Bombshell herself even tosses out quips and filthy one-liners like Duke, which is worthy of a chuckle here and there.
You’ll spend much of your time blasting baddies and looking for keycards to progress. Gunplay feels like it’s ripped straight from the classics, meaning a greater focus on killing your way through massive groups in a hyperkinetic fashion. You’re also richly rewarded for scouring each map in search of secrets, and there’s plenty of those to go around; I recommend not watching a YouTube video spoiling where they are after the fact, both because that spoils the fun and it’s kind of embarrassing how many you’ll miss.
The weapons you’ll use to splatter enemies are pretty standard, which means an assortment of pistols, shotguns, explosives and a powerful chaingun when you need it. Most weapons have a secondary mode to add some variety, but I was actually a little disappointed the wildest they get is a laser crossbow.
How’s the presentation, you say? Well…it’s a Build Engine game! It looks and feels like it’s straight out of the mid-90s, albeit with the odd graphical enhancement sprinkled in. That’s nice all around and really helps lends Ion Fury a feeling of being a lost title from the glory days. Bombshell’s quips are the highlight of the sound design as well – like Duke, she’s not a comedic masterpiece or anything, but her endless array of ancient pop-culture references are good for a chuckle. You gotta keep ‘em separated!
Ion Fury is one of those rare games that really understands what made the classics of yesteryear so memorable. It capitalizes on this understanding to deliver an experience that’s as loyal to those timeless legends as one could hope for, especially for those disappointed Duke Nukem fans who found his recent outings…lackluster. If killing armies of flattened enemies, plumping the depths for keycards and pressing up against every wall mashing E to search for secrets scratches a deep-seated itch for you, Ion Fury’s going to be the way to go.